Prominent Malaysian painter and batik artist Khalil Ibrahim dies

Khalil Ibrahim in 2011 with his piece 'Tanjung Bungkah' (East Coast Series II). Photo: Filepic

Khalil Ibrahim, a prominent Malaysian artist known for his batik paintings, landscapes, portraits, and abstracts that explored a deeply authentic Malaysian identity and vision, has died. He was 84.

Khalil died of natural causes at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, on May 15.

Born in Kubang Kerian, Kelantan, in 1934, Khalil began as a self-taught artist who painted with his left hand. In the 1950s, he painted regularly while working as a teacher in Kelantan and Pahang, before he was awarded a Pahang state scholarship to study art in England.

In 1960, Khalil enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art in London, where he received his formal training and developed his artistic style. He travelled across Europe during those student years, expanding his creative outlook.

He returned to Malaysia in 1966 and taught art at a school in Temerloh, Pahang, before moving to Kuala Lumpur in 1968 and embarking on an illustrious career that spanned over 50 years.

Khalil’s early exhibitions – London Years and Malaysian Batiks – were held in 1968 at the National Art Gallery (now known as National Visual Arts Gallery). He had shows also at Samat Art Gallery, owned by Frank Sullivan, the first director of the National Art Gallery.

These early exhibitions his name among art collectors, institutions, and fellow peers in Malaysia and the region.

'Pantai Timor – East Coast 1' (batik, 1978).
'Untitled' (acrylic on canvas, 1979).

A visit to Bali in the late '60s broadened his awareness for Indonesian art and culture. The trip prompted him to experiment with batik paintings, reflecting the richness of his own East Coast heritage. His series From Kelantan To Sanur in this period produced several iconic works.

Batik because the longstanding creative medium that he used into the '80s. His career was also filled with striking and evocative landscape and abstract work, many of which captivated and influenced the Malaysian art scene for generations.

His skill with various mediums – acrylic, oil, watercolour, and pen/ink – was first viewed as a whole during his retrospective show, A Continued Dialogue, at Galeri Petronas in 2004.

In 2012, Khalil suffered a stroke, which made it difficult for him to paint with his left hand. So, he trained himself to work with his right hand. Despite being wheelchair bound, Khalil kept himself going with his art.

'Sawah Padi Series', painted with oil on board in 1956, while Khalil was a student.
Khalil Ibrahim at work in his studio in Petaling Jaya in 1970.

In 2015, KL Lifestyle Art Space gallery paid tribute to Khalil’s career with The Art Journey, a retrospective publication and exhibition that showed some of his crucial work, loaned from the artist and private collections.

A group show, Love Me In My Batik: Modern Batik Art From Malaysia And Beyond, at Ilham Gallery in 2016 also presented his work to a contemporary audience.

His pieces have been featured in numerous local and international exhibitions and publications, and are part of both public and private collections, most notably by the National Visual Arts Gallery and Galeri Petronas.

'Tending Nets' (batik, 1968).
'Two Figures' (batik with newsprint, 1986).
'Gadis' (batik print, 1968).

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